Public Release: 

National party politics -- A cold house for Europeans?

Economic & Social Research Council

Major new research across the EU has found that, even after 50 years of European integration, national party politics remains a relatively cold house for those interested in European affairs. A team of international researchers, funded by the Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC), spent more than three years reviewing party structures in 15 EU Member States. Their findings in six nations analysed to date, show parties give only limited resources to EU issues, they still treat EU affairs as a matter of foreign policy and EU specialists, including MEPs, tend to be left in the cold when it comes to internal power-politics.

According to Professor Thomas Poguntke and his collaborators from Keele University, the research also questions the role of party 'elites' in EU decision-making, particularly those holding Ministerial positions.

"The lack of real interest in European affairs at party level gives those engaged in EU decision-making substantial room for manoeuvre in negotiations", he says going on to suggest that "these decision-makers are not being held fully accountable for their actions at EU level".

The process whereby parties adapt to change brought about by EU integration is described as 'europeanisation'. According to the study, national political parties are not fully engaging in this process for reasons which are both economic and political.

Parties are reticent to create new positions devoted to EU affairs because funds are scarce and they tend to rely on the public purse for these activities. The lack of influence of EU specialists and the increased empowerment of party elites is explained, according to the study, by the fact that decision-making in EU arenas continues to be viewed as a foreign policy matter by most party activists. Also, European integration has not substantially affected the party's chances of electoral success. Domestic issues continue to dominate electoral contests in most cases and party leaderships continue to maintain a domestic focus in their electoral promises.

While these findings may not surprise those studying British political party structures, the research found similarities in party dynamics in case studies carried out in Austria, France, Germany, Spain and Sweden as well as Britain. The research therefore has important implications for the internal functioning of parties EU-wide and for questions of democratic control, accountability, representation and legitimacy, both at national and EU level.

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FOR FURTHER INFORMATION CONTACT

Professor Thomas Poguntke, Ruhr-Universitat Bochum (Germany) Tel: 49 234 32 28975, e-mail: Thomas.poguntke@ruhr-uni-bochum.de

Dr Kurt Richard Luther, Keele University, Tel: 01270 768 069, e-mail: r.luther@keele.ac.uk

ESRC Press Office

Alexandra Saxon Tel: 01793 413032, e-mail: alexandra.saxon@esrc.ac.uk

1. The research 'The Europeanisation of National Political Parties' was funded by the Economic and Social Research Council. It was carried out by Professor Thomas Poguntke (Principal Investigator), Dr Nicholas Aylott, Dr Robert Ladrech and Dr Kurt Richard Luther of Keele University.

2. Methodology -The first in-depth comparative study of the Europeanisation of national political parties, the project was carried out by way of a two-stage design. The first involved case studies of parties in six countries (Austria, Britain, France, Germany, Spain and Sweden and drew on an analysis of party documents (statutes, rules, archives) and on the insights of more than 150 interviews with party politicians and party staff. The second phase involved the sending of standardised mail questionnaires to politicians and staff in all relevant parties in all 15 pre-2004 enlargement Member States of the EU.

3. The Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC) is the UK's largest funding agency for research and postgraduate training relating to social and economic issues. It supports independent, high quality research relevant to business, the public sector and voluntary organisations. The ESRC's planned total expenditure in 2007-08 is £181 million. At any one time the ESRC supports over 4,000 researchers and postgraduate students in academic institutions and research policy institutes. More at http://www.esrcsocietytoday.ac.uk

4. ESRC Society Today offers free access to a broad range of social science research and presents it in a way that makes it easy to navigate and saves users valuable time. As well as bringing together all ESRC-funded research and key online resources such as the Social Science Information Gateway and the UK Data Archive, non-ESRC resources are included, for example the Office for National Statistics. The portal provides access to early findings and research summaries, as well as full texts and original datasets through integrated search facilities. More at http://www.esrcsocietytoday.ac.uk

5. The ESRC confirms the quality of its funded research by evaluating research projects through a process of peer review. This research has been graded as 'outstanding'

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